When you are convicted of a crime, whether in Lebanon County, PA, or elsewhere, the impact it has on your life extends well beyond whatever sentence you receive. No matter how minor or severe your offense, there's a stigma that comes with having a criminal record that can come back to haunt you for the rest of your life, even after you've repaid your debt to society. A conviction appearing on your criminal background check can make it difficult to find employment, receive professional licensure, obtain a loan, join the military, further your education, or find a place to live--just to name a few.
That said, not all is hopeless if you've been convicted of a crime in Lebanon County. Pennsylvania law does provide some avenues to clear your record and your name—including obtaining a pardon.
Thankfully recent reforms in Pennsylvania law have made it easier for more people to eventually have a “clean slate.” Records are now automatically sealed for many minor offenses after a certain length of time has passed with no further charges. Expungement is an option for some people, as well. For all others, especially those convicted of serious crimes, a pardon may be the only viable option available. Obviously, pardons in Pennsylvania aren't handed out wholesale and applying for one is a tedious process with no guarantees. Thus, it's important to consult an experienced Lebanon County pardon attorney who regularly handles record clearing cases to ensure your best chances for success.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has been helping people in Lebanon County and throughout Pennsylvania with criminal convictions get their lives back on track for many years. If you're interested in exploring a pardon, the Lento Law Firm has compiled the following key information, so you understand the process and how to prepare.
What Is a Pardon?
In Pennsylvania, a pardon is a form of forgiveness for a criminal conviction that can only be legally granted by the Governor of the state. A pardon essentially restores to you all the rights and privileges that you had as a citizen that you lost due to a criminal conviction. It eliminates a conviction as if it had never occurred.
Who Is Eligible to Request a Pardon?
There are no specific eligibility requirements to apply for a pardon, unlike the expungement process in which eligibility is spelled out. Virtually any Pennsylvanian convicted of a crime may apply for a pardon provided they have completed their sentence. Every application is considered on a case-by-case basis. You're more likely to have your pardon approved if you were convicted of only one minor crime at least five years past or a more serious crime no less than ten years previously. Your chances of a pardon also increase if you demonstrate true rehabilitation—that is, you've committed no additional crimes since you served your sentence.
The Process of Obtaining a Pardon in Pennsylvania
The process of applying for and obtaining a pardon can be complex and time-consuming, with each step of the process depending on the success of the previous ones. An experienced Lebanon County attorney can help you through the process to increase your chances of getting your pardon granted. The steps are as follows:
Your attorney requests a pardon application on your behalf to be filled out and submitted to the Board of Pardons. Along with your application, you'll need to provide extensive documentation, which may take some time to obtain. The documentation includes a copy of your complete PA criminal record, your educational history, your employment history, your driving history, and other details. You may also want to include supplementary materials such as a written personal statement, letters of recommendation, lists of achievements and awards--anything that demonstrates you have reformed your life.
The following elements should be included in an effective application:
- An acknowledgment of guilt or regret for having committed the offense
- The reasons why you're asking for a pardon (e.g., employment issues, problems finding a place to live, seeking a professional license, etc.)
- Why you should be granted a pardon (i.e., why you are a good candidate)
Once your application is filled out and all supplementary materials are gathered, your attorney will submit your application to the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons.
After the Board receives your application, they submit it to the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, which in turn will assign an agent to your case. The agent will run a thorough investigation into the circumstances behind your conviction and your current life. You will most likely be contacted for a personal interview with the agent, and you'll likely be asked to provide additional documentation.
Board of Pardons Merit Review
After the investigation is complete, the parole agent will submit a report to the Board of Pardons containing all of their findings. This report will be reviewed by the Board at what's known as a “merit review.” The goal of the review is to determine whether to allow you to proceed to the next step of the pardon process, which is a public hearing. At least two of the five Board members must approve your application for the hearing to be scheduled; otherwise, your application will be denied at this point.
If the Board approves the hearing, you will then go to Harrisburg, PA to appear in person before the Board, where you will have the opportunity to present your case. You may bring your attorney and character witnesses to this hearing. Bear in mind that you'll only have 15 minutes in front of the Board, and they will most likely use some of that time to ask you some questions—so advance preparation is key to a successful hearing.
Your hearing will likely take place along with a number of other pardon applicants. When the Board has concluded hearing from all the applicants, they will vote publicly whether to recommend a pardon. At least three of the five Board members must recommend your pardon for your application to move forward. If approved, your pardon application will be sent to the Governor's desk for review.
The Board of Pardons has a great deal of influence in determining who receives a pardon—but ultimately, the final decision to grant your pardon lies with the Governor of Pennsylvania. If the Governor grants the pardon, your expungement process can begin.
What Are the Benefits of Receiving a Pardon?
In most cases, a pardon will have the effect of eliminating any barriers to employment, housing, loans, and professional licenses. This is because the conviction no longer exists in your criminal history. A pardon in the state of Pennsylvania also restores numerous important rights and liberties that you may have lost with your criminal conviction, including the ability to serve in the military, serve on a jury, run for public office, travel internationally, and possess firearms.
For What Types of Crimes Can I Receive a Pardon?
In Pennsylvania, you can apply for a pardon for virtually any criminal conviction on your record, whether it's a summary offense, misdemeanor, or felony. However, since recent reforms in criminal law already allow for minor crimes to be more easily expunged or sealed, a pardon is really the only viable option for serious misdemeanors and felonies that aren't eligible for expungement.
What Is the Clean Slate Law in Pennsylvania, and How Does It Affect Pardons?
The Clean Slate Law is a major reform first enacted in 2018 that automatically seals records of certain arrests and criminal convictions after a specified period of time and makes it much easier for eligible Pennsylvanians to get their criminal records expunged. A recent expansion of the Clean Slate Law, Act 83, also provides that criminal records for pardoned crimes are now automatically sealed. (Before now, pardoned individuals still had their convictions showing up on background checks.)
Does the Clean Slate Law Mean My Criminal Record Is Automatically Expunged After Receiving a Pardon?
No. Record sealing is different than expungement. When you receive a pardon, your record will be sealed from public view, so it no longer appears on criminal background checks for employment, professional licensing, etc. But the conviction will still be visible in certain government databases. However, once you've received your pardon, you may take the pardon to the court where you were convicted and specifically petition to have your record expunged—which means all records of your arrest and conviction will be destroyed and no longer visible to anyone.
Can I Obtain a Pardon While I'm Still Serving My Sentence?
No. In Pennsylvania, pardons are reserved for those who have completed their sentences. If you're currently serving a sentence for a criminal offense, you would need to petition the Governor for clemency rather than a pardon, which your Lebanon County attorney can also help with.
Lebanon County Pardon Attorney
The process of applying for a pardon is lengthy and complicated, requiring a lot of patience and some understanding of the law. Your best bet for successfully obtaining a pardon in Lebanon County, PA, is by working with an experienced pardon attorney. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm can help. Call us today at 888-535-3686.